Four Color Printing – Is it Worth the Price?

Four-Color printing can add a, exciting dimension to your marketing materials that can be much more dramatic than simple one or two-color printing. One or two-color printing is not necessarily inferior to four-color, but the question should be: is four-color printing really necessary for the project on hand?

For example, a direct mail piece or marketing brochure that is introducing your company for the first time to a potential customer should make a great first impression and four-color printing may be the best way to communicate your products or services. However, an assembly instruction booklet to be included with a product may work fine as a one- or two-color printing project.

Four-Color Pros:

Many clients and designers often feel that four-color process printing gives them the most design flexibility. With four-color process printing, any color imaginable can be created, allowing the designer to make text in color or to use graphic elements for emphasis that literally jump off the page.

Photographs can be reproduced in color, making product images much more believable and many different colored screen tints are possible giving a designer an almost limitless palette to work with when designing.

If you are trying to produce a show-and-tell brochure where photographs are vital to explain a service, process or product, then four-color process printing is your logical choice, regardless of the price.

Four-Color Cons:

Four-color printing is usually considered much more expensive than one and two-color printing. Generally, the same brochure quoted as four-color versus two-color can easily be as much as 200-400% more expensive since there are four printing plates involved, and there is a lot more pre-press work involved.

While printing costs have become much more competitive over the last few years as more printers have gone to digital printing (with digital files outputting directly to plates), the pre-press work is still quite involved, though much of it is now done by graphic designers, instead of by printers.

If you have photographs or transparencies, they will need to be scanned, though digital photography does eliminate the need for scanning. Color images will still need to be color corrected and in some cases, some work will need to be done in PhotoShop to improve a photograph’s contrast and clarity. color copies for cheap

Other pre-press work may include converting photograph files from RGB to CMYK and making sure all images are sized properly and have adequate resolution for printing.

Simple one or two-color printing jobs have less pre-press work and fewer plates to be made, and tend to be less expensive to print than four-color.

Trying to reproduce some PMS (Pantone Matching System) colors using four-color process can be difficult if not impossible with some colors. Often a client will have a logo or design element that has been printed on past materials as a PMS spot color and are upset when the same color cannot be created accurately using four-color process.

Most four-color printing requires coated paper stock in order to produce the best color fidelity. While you can print four-color process on uncoated and textured stock, many clients find the softness and lack of contrast of the printed reproductions to be less than desirable when uncoated stock is used.

Often it is necessary to varnish or apply liquid lamination to large four-color areas or large solid areas in order to limit finger printing, especially on brochure and pocket folder covers. This is sometimes viewed as an option, but is really necessary to make sure a quality piece makes a great first impression.

Four-color printing also requires proofing of all color proofs prior to printing to ensure true color fidelity, and it is a common practice for the client and designer to be present during press runs to approve all color and supervise press adjustments if necessary.

Pre-Press-Where Things Go Right-Or Wrong

There is an old saying that you should use the right tool for the right job, and with creating pre-press files for your project, this is very true.

When you are producing high-quality, offset lithography materials, there is no substitution for high quality graphic design tools such as the Adobe Creative Suite (Illustrator, InDesign, PhotoShop) and Quark XPress. There are some other applications that can be used, but these are the most widely used, because they are designed to work within the exacting color standards and protocols demanded by four-color printing.

If you talk to printers, you will find that few, if any, are willing work with client-provided files such as Microsoft Word, Publisher and other programs that are aimed at creating basic documents. More often than not, these applications are just not compatible with the software and output devices used by printers.